Gathering Feedback and Documenting Professional Growth in Teaching

Midterm course feedback

This resource describes a formative feedback process in which you control the gathering and implementation of suggestions that support your teaching goals and development. 

Changing your instruction based on input from students, colleagues, yourself, and University instructional consultants serves to:

  • guide your professional growth as a teacher in a systematic way
  • prioritize the most important instructional changes to make   
  • demonstrate in an annual report your commitment to increasing your effectiveness as an instructor

Please contact us if you would like help with any aspect of this process.

Why do this?

For an annual report, documenting how you have invested in your teaching over time communicates your commitment to student learning and to increasing your effectiveness as an instructor. 

To do this well, you’ll want to be thinking about and collecting feedback on your teaching from time to time throughout the year. Then, in an end-of-year written narrative:

  • synthesize the feedback you received
  • describe how you acted on it
  • summarize the results you observed or measured based on the changes you made

This documentation of your professional development in teaching can take many forms. You might:

  • articulate annual teaching goals and document your progress toward  achieving them 
  • develop a storyline about change that chronicles how you have progressed as a teacher over time
  • describe a single significant instructional achievement that involved considerable time and effort

Check with those in your department to find out if there is a preferred or expected way to document your professional growth in teaching. Regardless of how you ultimately frame your teaching narrative, you’ll find it beneficial to gather periodic feedback from multiple sources and to document how you acted on what you learned to increase your effectiveness as a teacher.

Sources of Feedback

Though it’s helpful to think regularly about your teaching and to make small changes, it can be difficult to prioritize teaching-related goals and to make high-impact instructional changes if you rely solely on your own perceptions. Other sources of feedback provide important perspectives that help you decide where to focus your instructional change efforts. 

Meaningful feedback from the sources below can provide a significant contribution to your future teaching approach; each can also influence your decisions on the design and delivery of your current courses. 

  • Students in your current courses
  • Trusted colleagues with whom you establish a culture of supporting one another’s professional growth as teachers
  • Yourself, using thinking and writing as methods for self assessment and reflection
  • Experts in pedagogy, course design, and curriculum from your college or campus, as well as experts from central support units like the writing center, the libraries, the instructional technology team, or the Center for Educational Innovation
  • External sources such as journals, websites, and professional organizations

Students

Feedback from Students

Information from students about your teaching is relevant since they are the direct recipients of your instructional activities over the entire semester. They are the best source on how your instructional decisions and behaviors affect their learning. 

Observing Student Behavior in the Course

Beyer, Taylor, and Gillmore (2014) asked 55 experienced faculty members to rate the contributions of 17 possible sources of change to their pedagogy over the years. Faculty rated student behavior in class as the factor that played the most significant role in changes made to their teaching. What might that behavior involve?

  • Whether student participation is balanced among all learners
  • When student energy and enthusiasm are highest 
  • What questions they ask — and don’t ask
  • The depth and sophistication of their responses to questions and their contributions to discussions
  • Whether they understand your instructions for activities and assignments   
  • Their participation analytics in Canvas 
  • Their non-verbal communication

By paying close attention to students in each class session, you’ll glean observational feedback on how they are experiencing the course and be able to make regular changes based on that feedback. 

Early Term Feedback

When observational data raise a question or challenge that you’d like to understand in a more systematic way, conduct a short survey of all students early in the semester.  Learn how to gather, interpret, and act on early term feedback on teaching on your own, or invite a CEI consultant to your class to facilitate student feedback using a focused consensus process. 

Gathering and acting upon student feedback before mid-semester enables you to make timely instructional adjustments prior to implementing the higher stakes student evaluations at the end of the term. The process also provides an opportunity to share with students your rationale on aspects of the course that you’re not willing or able to change. 

Even when the course seems to be going well, collecting early term feedback is a good idea. The process conveys to students that you are invested in your teaching role and seek their input to improve the learning environment.  

Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)

While early term feedback tends to be about the course overall and is done just once a semester, you might want to collect periodic, specific data on how well students are learning course content, specific concepts, or key ideas. To do this prior to exams or major graded assignments, use Classroom Assessment Techniques — informal, ungraded assessments on student learning or your instruction. CATs require little time and can be implemented in an anonymous, low-stakes way. 

These techniques give both you and your students immediate feedback about their learning. Based on their responses, you make adjustments in your instruction (e.g. spend more time on concepts that many students don’t understand) and/or ask students to assess the effectiveness of their study habits and learning behaviors (e.g. Do they eliminate distractions while reading course material?) 

Student Rating of Teaching 

Your end-of-semester feedback about teaching from students (SRT or SET forms) provides student perception data through quantitative ratings and written comments. These data provide you with another source of student feedback that you can use to inform and document your professional growth over time. 

A common method used by faculty in annual reports involves comparing current to past quantitative scores on many items for a given course. Linse (2014) and other researchers reiterate that while small changes in either direction may not be meaningful, overall trends should be noted, followed by describing changes made in your instruction that account for the improvement. 

With student comments, look at the themes that emerge from the data  (not the outliers) and document those themes. Both the SRT and SET use open-ended questions that parallel the wording used in early term feedback, allowing you to make another comparison between student perceptions early in the course versus the end of the course.  

Finally, for campuses that use the SRT form, a guide to help instructors improve their scores lists a series of suggestions associated with each item on the form. The guide provides actionable, practical tips you can adopt immediately regardless of your level of teaching experience.

Colleagues

Feedback from Colleagues

Professional colleagues encounter many of the same instructional issues that you do and can provide valuable critical input on course design and delivery. There are few if any restrictions on how or when any instructor can gain formative feedback from university colleagues. Seek out trusted peers for the purposes of supporting one another’s professional growth as teachers. 

Colleague feedback can include:

  • Informal conversations in the workplace (or via web conferencing for adjuncts and fully online instructors) explore instructional issues that are common across faculty or particular to your courses. If you have teaching goals, use these conversations as a way to check in and discuss progress and challenges. 
  • Commentary on your course documents (e.g., Canvas site, syllabus, assignments, assessments) involves exchanging documents and discussing your particular questions, as well as anything else your colleagues think could be done differently.
  • Classroom observations involve attending each other’s classes or, for online courses, reviewing each other’s sites. Prior to the observation, discuss:
    • what the teacher wants the observer to focus on 
    • what the goals are for that class session
    • what kind of feedback will be most useful. You might choose to simply discuss the class session afterwards with attention to the teacher’s focus areas and session goals. If your department does formal peer review, you might wish to use that form. Alternatively, these forms on teaching review can be used or adapted.

In contrast to seeking out colleagues on your own, participation in CEI’s faculty cohort programs provide semester- or year-long opportunities to engage with peers from other disciplines or UMN campuses in some of the ways listed above. For example, the Early Career Teaching and Learning Program forms small groups in which team members meet monthly to discuss small changes they are making in a course and to observe each other’s teaching. 

Self Assessment

Feedback Through Self Assessment

Your engagement in self assessment and reflection are particularly important sources of professional growth. Thinking and writing about what you are grappling with, perhaps as a result of student and colleague feedback, is one form of self assessment and reflection. There are a variety of informal and formal ways to engage in this kind of feedback.

Informal reflection

  • Keep a reflection journal where you can write open comments on the day’s class session
  • Respond daily to two simple questions on instructional delivery: 
    • How did I engage the students today?
    • How might I reteach this lesson given the opportunity?
  • Borrow ideas from a list of 10 questions to raise about your current and future instructional practice.

Teaching statement

If you have already written a teaching (philosophy) statement, look again on the assertions you made and ask “Do I still hold these beliefs about teaching and learning? Does this reflect my current practice?” If you are preparing to write your first teaching statement, follow these guidelines on getting started, creating a draft, and assessing it. 

Teaching Practices Inventory

The Teaching Practices Inventory, developed by Nobel Prize winner and science educator Carl Wieman, can help you gauge your use of research-based practices. Your responses here can guide your priorities and teaching-related goal setting.

Effective Practices Framework

The Effective Practice Framework from the Association for College and University Educators is an independently validated statement of the skills every college teacher should possess. The provision of these competencies is both a mechanism for self assessment (i.e., Am I creating a course that is sound?)and a guide for directing your future professional growth as a teacher.

Other Sources

Feedback from Other Sources

In addition to what you can learn from students, your colleagues, and your own self assessment, many Twin Cities colleges and UMN campuses have experts who can provide feedback and guidance in pedagogy, course design, and curriculum development. 

You can also request consultations with experts from central units that support teaching on your campus. These include staff from the libraries, the disability resource center, the instructional technology teams, the writing center, as well as the systemwide Center for Educational Innovation (CEI) and Global Programs and Strategy Alliance.

Contact CEI for an individual consultation or to be directed to the appropriate experts for the questions you have. We can also connect you with external sources, such as discipline specific teaching journals, articles, websites, and professional organizations that can help you advance your professional growth as a teacher. 

References

References

  1. Angelo, T., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd. ed). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
  2. Beyer, C., Taylor, E, & Gillmore, G. (2014). Inside the undergraduate teaching experience: The University of Washington’s Growth in Faculty Teaching study. State University of New York: SUNY Press.
  3. Lang, J. (2016). Small teaching: Everyday lessons from the science of learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. 
  4. Linse, A. R. (2017). Interpreting and using student ratings data: Guidance for faculty serving as administrators and on evaluation committees. Studies in Educational Evaluation, 54, 94-106.
  5. Thomson, K., & Trigwell, K. (2018). The role of informal conversations in developing university teaching? Studies in Higher Education, 43(9), 1536-1547.
  6. Wieman, C., & Gilbert, S. (2014). The Teaching Practices Inventory: A new tool for characterizing college and university teaching in mathematics and science. CBS-Life Sciences Education, 13, 552-569. 

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